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Gene Kershner’s Post Time: American Pharoah rides off into the sunset

LEXINGTON, Ky. – American Pharoah will take to the dance floor one last time this afternoon in the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic.

The Triple Crown winner will look to wrap up his sparkling career at historic Keeneland Racecourse in the 32nd edition of the Classic, North America’s richest race. He will go to Coolmore Ashford Stud Farm in Kentucky after the race to begin his second career, one that stands to be as lucrative as the one on the track.

The Classic will be the feature and final of nine Breeders’ Cup races to be run this afternoon for the first time at the Lexington oval. The mile-and-a-quarter race will send nine horses to the gate with the defection of the 5-year-old mare Beholder.

The second choice on the morning line scratched out of the race Thursday morning when it was discovered she bled after her morning workout. She had spiked a fever upon arriving in the Bluegrass late last week after a rough plane ride that contributed to her troubles.

The loss of Beholder paints a different pace scenario onto the race as Hall-of-Fame jockey Gary Stevens was likely going to press American Pharoah (4-5) and not let him get away with soft early fractions similar to what happened in the Belmont Stakes. The question now is who will keep the Triple Crown winner honest in the early going?

Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin echoed the concern of a loose-on-the-lead American Pharoah. “We all may be in trouble if he’s left alone on a 47 and change first half,” McLaughlin said. Frosted (12-1), the son of Tapit, comes out of an easy win in the Pennsylvania Derby, a race McLaughlin thinks helped his colt mature.

“It was a good confidence boost for trainer, team and horse,” McLaughlin said. “He ran very well that day. Hopefully we can run a similar style. He laid fourth early and hopefully things go similar.”

Frosted had the best view of American Pharoah’s Triple Crown win at Belmont Park, finishing second in the crowning race. He came back at Saratoga and challenged the son of Pioneerof the Nile throughout the first 9 furlongs of the Travers with substitute jockey Jose Lezcano aboard after Joel Rosario suffered an injury on the undercard.

McLaughlin will have Frosted’s regular rider, Rosario, in the irons this afternoon. McLaughlin thinks the combination of his colt’s maturity and the difficulty of Pharoah’s season gives his colt a big chance.

“We have to hope that he (American Pharoah) regresses,” he said. “He’s had a lot of flights going back and forth. Hopefully they catch up with him a little bit. I think we’re three lengths better than Travers day with a different rider.”

Trainer Dale Romans is also on the Frosted bandwagon.

“He only got beat 3½ lengths in the Travers,” Romans said. “He went out and tried to win by taking on the champion. He ran a huge race and bounced back the way he did in the Pennsylvania Derby, he’s being way overlooked.”

Romans knows a thing or two about beating the champ. His colt Keen Ice (8-1) defeated the Pharoah in the Travers after he was softened up by Frosted.

“I think Tonalist is very live and Frosted could jump up and run huge again,” Romans said. “It’s not just the American Pharoah show.”

The affable trainer has a lot of confidence in his developing colt, a son of 2007 Classic winner Curlin, and feels Keen Ice has caught up to American Pharoah.

“My horse has changed so much since January, he’s really matured,” he said.

“This is such a fun race, because you can come up with 50 different scenarios, but they all end up with Keen Ice winning” Romans joked.

Not only will American Pharoah face familiar opponents from the Triple Crown trail, he will face older horses for the first time, including two-time Jockey Club Gold Cup winner Tonalist (4-1). The 2014 Belmont winner who spoiled California Chrome’s Triple Crown bid last year rebounded from a disappointing effort in the Whitney and Met Mile to win the Gold Cup. He enters the Classic on an upswing and has a favorable post to gain ground-saving position from the rail.

Is an upset in the Classic in the cards? This is the town where Villanova upset mighty Georgetown in the NCAA basketball final in 1985. But trainer Bob Baffert’s quiet confidence and a rested Triple Crown winner who has not raced in nine weeks say otherwise.

Baffert shrugged off any concern about American Pharoah facing older horses.

“I have older horses in my barn that he can destroy, so I’m not worried about it,” said Baffert.

The white-haired trainer paused outside his barn on the Keeneland backside to reflect on what his horse accomplished over the course of this magical racing season.

“This horse really brought racing back to the wonderful part of history and America,” said Baffert. “Like in any sport, you want to see something spectacular and he delivered. He made a lot of people feel really good about our sport.”

Baffert can sense that the end is near and his voice started to crack when describing his star colt.

“He’s a once-in-a-lifetime horse for me, so we’re just enjoying him. It’s emotional for me, one more day trackside to put the saddle on him. It’s like your kid competing in his last game; you just hope he does well.”

Never has a horse completed the Triple Crown and won the Classic in the same year.

Based on the pace scenario presented, American Pharoah should waltz further into the history books early this evening.

Post Time Outlook: 1 – American Pharoah, 2 - Tonalist, 3 - Frosted, 4 - Keen Ice